Only 1 of 9 races for federal office in the Badger state in 2006 is considered a true ‘toss-up’: the 8th Congressional district race. But the state does offer a high-profile gubernatorial matchup…plus all those other federal races are just full of ‘fun-facts’…
WI Governor: One-term incumbent Jim Doyle is seeking to become the first democratic gubernatorial incumbent to win reelection in Wisconsin since Patrick Lucey in 1974. The Wisconsin race for governor is viewed to be one of the most competitive races in the nation. Doyle’s approval rating has flirted with the short end of 50% for most of the past two years, usually settling in the mid- to high 40s (which ranks in the bottom one-third among governors in the nation). GOP nominee Mark Green is well known (and well-liked) in northeastern Wisconsin, but is not as well known (or liked) in the densely populated Madison and Milwaukee regions, which are democratic strongholds. Each of the more than dozen public polls released in 2006 all show Doyle with a lead, but usually in the single-digits. Smart Politics Projection: Doyle, Democratic hold.
WI U.S. Senate: Three-term Democratic Senator Herb Kohl was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1988 to fill the seat vacated by longtime Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire. Kohl won that race over Susan Engeleiter by only 5 points, but followed that up with very successful reelection campaigns in 1994 (18 points over Robert Welch) and 2000 (25 points over John Gillespie). Wisconsin has elected Democrats to the U.S. Senate in 13 of the last 15 races since 1962. Kohl is an extremely popular Senator, ranking in the Top 20 most popular in the United States, with approval ratings in the low 60s. The Republican candidacy of Robert Gerald Lorge has not taken hold, with poll results showing support for Kohl significantly more than double that of Lorge. Wisconsinites will continue their trend of sending Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Smart Politics Projection: Kohl, Democratic hold.
WI U.S. House-1: Four-term Republican incumbent Paul Ryan will square off against Democrat Jeffrey Chapman Thomas for the fourth straight election. Ryan was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, winning the open seat previously filled by two-term Republican congressman Mark Neumann. Ryan won that race by 14 points over Democratic nominee Lydia Carol Spottswood. Ryan followed that election with three more impressive finishes – a 33-point victory in 2000, a 37-point victory in 2002, and a 33-point victory in 2004 (all over Thomas). Smart Politics Projection: Ryan, Republican hold.
WI U.S. House-2: Four-term Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin won her first congressional race in 1998, by defeating Republican nominee Josephine W. Musser by 6 points, filling the open seat left by 4-term GOP congressman Scott L. Klug. Baldwin eked out a 3 point win in the closest U.S. House race in the state in 2000, before winning by a very comfortable 32-point margin in 2002 after redistricting. In 2004 Baldwin defeated Republican Dave Magnum by a decisive 27 points. WI-2 is a decidedly left-leaning U.S. House district that heavily favors Democratic candidates. In her 2006 rematch against Magnum, Baldwin will flirt with doubling the votes her opponent receives. Smart Politics Projection: Baldwin, Democratic hold.
WI U.S. House-3: Five-term Democrat incumbent Ronald James Kind was elected to represent the 3rd District in 1996 filling the open seat left by eight-term GOP congressman Steven Gunderson. Kind beat his GOP counterpart in that election, James E. Harsdorf, by 4 points. Since then Kind has capitalized on the incumbent’s advantage – winning by 43 points in 1998, 28 points in 2000, 29 points in 2002, and 13 points in 2004. A ‘spirited’ ad war launched by Kind’s 2006 GOP opponent Paul R. Nelson brought some national attention to the race. However, the current political climate indicates Kind will extend his string of four consecutive double-digit victory margins. Smart Politics Projection: Kind, Democratic hold.
WI U.S. House-4: One-term incumbent Gwendolynne Moore won her inaugural U.S. House race by 41 points to fill the seat vacated by 11-term Democratic congressman Gerald Kleczka. Milwaukee’s 4th District has gone to the Democrats in every election since 1948, with an average margin of victory of 50 points since 1960. In five of the 23 elections since 1960 the GOP did not field a nominee. The Milwaukee region has been a Democratic stronghold in the state for generations and will remain so in 2006. Smart Politics Projection: Moore, Democratic hold.
WI U.S. House-5: Fourteen-term Republican incumbent James F. Sensenbrenner is a prominent House leader who serves as chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary. Sensenbrenner has been at the forefront in the past year fighting for tough immigration reforms in the House. Sensenbrenner was first elected to Congress in 1978 from what was then Wisconsin’s 9th District, winning the open seat of 2-term GOP congressman Robert Kasten. Twelve of Sensenbreener’s fourteen victories came in the 9th District. In 2002, Sensenbrenner won by 73 points in the newly drawn 5th District, followed by a 35-point victory over Bryan Kennedy in 2004. Sensenbrenner has won by an average victory margin of 62 points in his House campaigns. Sensenbrenner is as solid a lock to win re-election as any U.S. House incumbent facing a challenger in the Upper Midwest. Smart Politics Projection: Sensenbrenner, Republican hold.
WI U.S. House-6: Fourteen-term Republican incumbent Thomas E. Petri is running unopposed in 2006. Petri won a special election in 1979 to fill the vacancy due to the death of seven-term Republican United States Representative William A. Steiger. Petri won the next twelve elections by an average margin of victory of 59 points, with only one close call – a 6-point win over Democratic nominee Peggy A. Lautenschlager in 1992. The Democrats have failed to field a candidate against Petri in six of the eleven races from 1986-2006. Smart Politics Projection: Petri, Republican hold.
WI U.S. House-7: Nineteen-term Democratic incumbent David Obey is the senior member of the Wisconsin delegation to Congress. Obey serves on the House Budget, Joint Economic, and Appropriations Committees. Obey was elected in 1969 to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of 9-term GOP Representative Melvin R. Laird to become Secretary of Defense, making him the youngest member of Congress at that time. Obey successfully defended his seat in each of the next 18 elections, by an average margin of victory of 30 points. The closest race Obey faced was during the Republican revolution of 1994, when he beat his GOP contender Scott West by 9 points. Obey has rebounded from that election, however, increasing his margins of victory in the last five elections to 14, 21, 27, 28, and 76 points respectively (Obey did not face a GOP challenger in 2004). Obey is the elder statesman of Wisconsin politics and holds very prominent committee assignments in the U.S. House. Smart Politics Projection: Obey, Democratic hold.
WI U.S. House-8: WI-8 is a highly prized, open-seat race between Democrat Steven L. Kagen and Republican John Gard for the seat vacated by four-term Republican Mark Green who opted to run for the state’s governorship. The race is viewed to be so close that virtually no Congressional expert has given an advantage to either candidate in this race. The district voted for President Bush 55-44 over John Kerry in 2004, but the political climate has changed in two years such that Bush’s own approval rating is just 33 percent in the district. Polls show Kagen with a slight lead, well within the margin of error. Smart Politics projection: Kagen, Democratic pick-up.